The commenter known as “Pete” has a picture that looks like a little kid, but he’s really a distinguished physician. He’s also among the top two Bob Dylan aficionados that I have ever known (the other being a good friend and former colleague). Pete went so far as to look me up and take me with him to a Dylan concert in Washington, D. C. So I value greatly his thoughts on Dylan’s latest album, his unique take on the American “standards” as performed by Frank Sinatra. Pete gave me his thoughts about the album, which I post with his permission after the jump.I’ll even post Pete’s introduction to his post:
Here are some observations on Bob Dylan’s new album – out yesterday – that you’re welcome to post on Cranach if you’d like. I know you enjoy the discussion of whether his voice is good or not and this could possibly get one rolling.
As usual, fascinating artistic turn. I’m actually vacationing, skiing with some friends in Utah and did the “earbuds while skiing” thing yesterday. Gotta say, listening to Bob crooning “That Lucky Old Son” while I was on a ski lift ascending heavenward was close to an overwhelming religious experience. And coming down the slopes to “What’ll I Do” wasn’t bad, either. I even wiped out once or twice but Bob kept singing as I rounded up the scattered gear and shook off the snow. It was sort of warm, so I was skiing with my coat unzipped and one of the lift attendants – a twenty-something hipster kid – seeing my Dylan t-shirt said, “hey man, y’know his new album comes out today?” I smiled, assured him I knew and pointed to the earbuds, faith in the younger generation restored.
So use this or not, as you wish. For sure pick up a copy – $7.99 on iTunes. (Possibly free if you have an AARP card.)
Never ceases to amaze, that Bob. His newest offering, “Shadows in the Night” is a collection of ten Frank Sinatra standards.
“What’s up with that?” one might legitimately ask – a new direction for the bard from Hibbing, to be sure. Maybe not bard so much as prophet. This album is Dylan, standing at a microphone in a recording studio screaming as loud as he knows how, to us – telling us to “turn back, repent!” I can picture him wearing the camel hair garment, leather belt and chewing on locusts that he’s dipped in some honey between takes. I say screaming, but for a rocker who has proven his ability to literally scream in the past (the songs “Idiot Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone” come readily to mind) there is precious little screaming in this collection of songs. Instead, it’s Dylan doing his level best in terms of voice, music and recording technique to treat these 10 portions of the received Sinatra canon with every atom of reverence that he can muster. That’s right, reverence.
Because Frank Sinatra is God – which would be blasphemous were it not metaphorical. It’s certainly metaphorically true (Sinatra = God) if you make your living by having people pay money to hear you sing. Particularly if you sing like Bob Dylan. God as transcendent, unattainable, infinitely above us. I am not making this up – listen to Dylan himself in his interview with AARP magazine coincident to the release of SITN. (And don’t for a second imagine that his choice of AARP is simply a whim!)“..nobody worshipped Frank Sinatra in the 60’s like they did in the 40’s. But he never went away. All those other things that we thought were here to stay, they did go away. But he never did.” Timeless, worshipped, omnipresent. Read that sentence again only substitute “God” for “Frank Sinatra”. Still reads true, does it not? Dylan has lived long enough to know that, like Sinatra, God was a lot more popular in the 40’s than in the 60’s. Or now.
And this: “.. nobody touches him. Not me or anyone else.” Hmm. Might as well rope off the base of the mountain.
And these songs, these gems – wow! If the closing number, “That Lucky Old Sun” isn’t the book of Ecclesiastes as initially presented by Sinatra and delivered here by Dylan, I’ll eat my hat. The sun rises, the sun sets, toil, futility, death – the whole deal. But, unlike the writer of Ecclesiastes, who sees death as a sort of unsolvable problem or inevitable roadblock for the plans of men, Dylan understands that death is his portal into “rolling ’round Heaven all day” just like the lucky old sun gets to do now. A timely song as Dylan is now somewhat advanced in years and harbors no illusions as to how far down he is on the Reaper’s list. How can he know he’ll be “rolling ’round Heaven”? Because Sinatra made it clear that “I’m a Fool To Want You”, but he loves us anyway. Doesn’t the Good Book tell us that Christ died for sinners? Dylan touched on this very theme a couple of albums ago (“Together Through Life”) in a song titled “My Wife’s Hometown”.
What about “Stay With Me” – it’s all there: confession, contrition, etc. This song was the closing number each night on his recent tour. I had the good fortune to hear it performed live – a veritable benediction.
The voice of a generation (AARP), who gave us “Slow Train Coming” is hollering at us that our train is off the rails – or rocketing headlong the wrong way. We need to turn it around and head back from whence we came. Back to when music sounded like this – recorded sans overwhelming technology. In a quiet room with some microphones. When you could hear the actual breath of the singer. Back to when you had to hear, believe and even live the words. “You have to believe what the words are saying and the words are as important as the melody. Unless you believe the song and have lived it, there’s little sense in performing it.” Back to what Frank represents – metaphorically.
But SITN also delivers a bit of a chill – a reality check. Dylan has, for many years been on what has been called ” the never- ending tour.” But, let’s not be dopes – Dylan certainly is not. Listen real hard, in a quiet place, to “That Lucky Old Sun”, which just happens (wink) to be the last song on the album. Ask yourself whether this might the last pearl that Dylan has tossed to us swine. I’m very much afraid that it’s a legitimate question.
The album is Shadows in the Night, and you can get it here.